tv America Tonight Al Jazeera December 3, 2014 12:00am-1:01am EST
on america tonight, shocking evidence that america veterans who risked all for our defense were sickened by poisons as they serve their country. >> a lot of people are saying orange. >> reporter: shiela mc-victor has an exclusive in depth look at the illnesses facing veterans of iraq and afghanistan and the fiery pits that may have poisoned them. also tonight a big health warning from the fda about one of the most common medical procedures facing millions of american women, america tonight
sarah hokye brought us a procedure that some fear may spread cancer and a follow-up and what doctors should do about it. and branches of government. >> capitol christmas tree is pretty new. >> reporter: we have a story behind the tree now gracing the nation's capitol. >> three, two, one. >> reporter: lighting up a season of peace on earth in a place where peace can be hard to come by. ♪ and good evening and thanks for joining us i'm joie chan and half of the veterans in iraq and afghanistan sufficient tear a disability connected to their service. they range from traumatic physical wounds of war to life
altering psychological scars and now there is increasing concern from millions who say the military should recognize their wounds from poisons they say they were exposed to in the line of duty. america tonight's shiela mc-victor has an exclusive, in depth look at what many believe will be the toxic legacy of iraq and afghanistan. >> i've lost a lot and i don't like being like this. >> reporter: 35-year-old anthony suffers a rare form of brain cancer. >> i could not tell you my last name or my daughters. i don't remember everybody's name. >> reporter: doctors had to take out part of his brain, his left temporal lobe and part of his hympocampus and has trouble speaking and can't read any more
and trouble keeping up with his three-year-old daughter and believes he got sick from toxins he was exposed to while serving his country. >> there he goes. >> reporter: massive open air burn pits like this operated on u.s. military bases across iraq and afghanistan, at the height of the wars more than 250 bases burned their trash. releasing large plumes of black smoke into the air. >> during the day time it was solid black. you could smell it. and depending on where the sun was it would -- it was so thick it would block some of the sun. >> reporter: he worked as a prison guard at camp booka. he says smoke from burn pits
lingered above his living quarters, three years after he tumor. >> produced a lot of powerful organic compounds and toxics and furons and for example benzine carcinogen. >> reporter: a former affair official and analyzed the toxins found in burn pit smoke, for three years since he left the agency he has been fighting to get the department of defense and va to recognize the burn pit exposure has sickened veterans. >> some of them are dying. we have claims from widows who cancers. we have claims from young guys who just have diabetes or have lymphoma or leukemia. >> reporter: representing 31 year odd rodney a specialist who lived a quarter mile from the largest burn pit in iraq at joint base valad and that burn
pit covered several acres, evening, plastics, human wastes and tires and batteries and old fire. >> they would use jp 8 fuel, jet fuel to set it on fire. there was always a yellow haze over that base. and everybody that you talk to had some type of respiratory issues with it. >> reporter: doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong until he had a lung biopsy. >> i showed that i had a titanium, alluminum, chromium, steel, silica in my lungs. slow down, there is no where else i could have got metal in my lungs. i never worked in anything that would have exposed me to that. >> reporter: he was diagnosed with constrike
-- disease. straw. >> reporter: shortness of breath following service in iraq and afghanistan. >> reporter: the doctor miller is a pulmonologist at vanderbilt and saw people with breathing problems and to solve the mystery he performed lung biopsies on patients, one of the first doctors to do so. his diagnosis, constrictive-bronchilitis and is this something you find in a person fit for deployment? >> no, this is a very uncommon diagnosis in an otherwise healthy individual. >> reporter: dr. miller says burn pits are one possible explanation. when he presented his findings patients. >> we know people are sick. we are really trying our best to
try to determine whether the burn pits are responsible. >> reporter: department of defense top public health official looked at numerous studies and found no proven link to burn pits for long-term health effects. >> we looked at several thousand individual service members who were assigned to locations with burn pits versus locations without burn pits. we looked at that data and we were unable to identify a definitive health risk associated with those burn pits. >> reporter: but dr. miller says the military needs to recognize that small airways disease could be linked to environmental exposure in iraq and afghanistan. and should be treated like other battlefield injuries. >> i think that we compensate people for loss of limb. we compensate people for ptsd. we should compensate people who have lost 70% of their airways
and can no longer climb a flight of stairs without distress. >> reporter: and it's not just veterans who are being diagnosed with this rare lung disease. tony madix was a civilian contractor who worked as a firefighter and par medic in iraq and afghanistan. >> i had asthma in small airways disease. i can walk. it's hard to run. it's hard to swim. >> reporter: he says he was exposed to a burn pit at fob warrior in afghanistan. >> i saw a toyota in there still with the battery in there, seats, tires, 55 gallon drums of i don't know what. >> reporter: 41 years old he had to abandon his career as a first responder. >> the epa says burning trash in the states is bad for you. and so is the american lung association and every environmental agency for every state in the union. >> reporter: we spoke to other
contractors who also believe emissions from burn pits made them sick and cost them their careers. many have not been able to get any compensation for their illnesses. they have to rely on private insurance or a federal compensation program that they say usually rejects their claims. the insurance company that covered him only paid part of his bills, telling him there wasn't enough evidence to link his illness to burn pits. >> they made it home safely and were not killed by enemy fire and didn't get hit by an ied and yet they come home and within months they die from cancer, a completely preventable, it's just heartbreaking. >> reporter: susan is a baltimore based lawyer leading a lawsuit targeting kbr the contractor hired by dod to get rid of waste on many of its bases. she says the kbr needs to foot the bill for people sickened by the burn pits.
>> the company received over a billion dollars for this logistical support and not just waste but other support and received all that money and did not perform on the contracts and did not bring in incinerators and did not handle it properly and they are not, in fact, the military and not public enterprise. >> reporter: kbr declined to comment and regardless who will pay for it veterans like anthony says the first step is getting responsibility. >> all the burning was done wrong and everybody knows that. >> reporter: after years of lobbying from advocates like the burn pits 360 in tune, the va started an online registry for veterans who feel they are sick from burn pits. up. >> i met other people that have been affected and, you know, a lot of people are saying this is
our generation agent orange. >> reporter: and his wife jamie says her husband feels betrayed after serving his country more than ten years. >> here these people go and they risk so much and forgo so much for our country and then our country doesn't know. >> reporter: with more and more veterans and contractors coming forward, claiming that burn pits made them sick, pressure on the military and veterans affairs is mounting. america tonight sheila mc-victor is here and makes you wonder about the history of these things and is this how it's operation? >> this is not the first time where the u.s. used massive burn pits but the burn pits consumed everything and burned for days at a time over a very long period of time. remember these are the wars we call america's long wars.
there were many veterans there. many people who were in that smoky haze for months and months at a time. and increasingly now we are hearing from civilian contractors and remember there were many more civilians on those bases than there were actually service personnel. >> reporter: was there anything else that could have been done? >> yes, there was. and, in fact, they had the solution, in 2009 congress passed a law which said if you are going to run bases for more than 90 days with more than 100 people on them then you have to do something else like incinerate your trash. they bought incinerators. they shipped incinerators and here is what the special inspector general of afghanistan has to say about what happened with those incinerators. >> i think they understand the importance of using incinerators instead of burn pits but i don't think they understand how do you properly get this done. what is proper oversight and management and how do you hold people accountable for when they screw up.
it all goes back to one thing, poor management oversight and holding people accountable by the army corps of engineers. >> reporter: in bases all over iraq and afghanistan they had the incinerators and in many cases if they were installed they weren't used, sometimes they were improperly installed and sometimes they were never unpacked at all, but of course the american taxpayer paid for them and we will take another look at that tomorrow night. >> when you look at the pictures it's incredible those veterans standing there throwing things into these flaming pits, incredible story and thanks and america tonight sheila mc-victor. in our next segment an urgent warning about one of the most common medical procedures facing millions of american women. >> when i found out this was a routine standard of care i knew we were dealing with a public health hazard. >> reporter: a story we first brought on america tonight and fda takes a strong stand, we will explain why. later in the program, the flash point ignited in ferguson and we will hear from the police chief picked by the president to lead
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a snapshot of stories making headlines on america tonight president obama said to be considering a top pentagon official ashton carter to replace hagel as defense secretary and it would be the fourth defense secretary of the obama administration and the president could announce his choice this week. a wife and son of the leader of isil has been detained by the lebanese army and arrested the pair ten days ago at the lebanese syria border crossing and still being held and
questioned by lebanese military officials. a grand jury is expected to announce this week whether a new york city police officer will face criminal charges in the choke hold death of eric garner and july they confronted him on stanten island and he was placed in a choke hold and the medical examiner ruled the death was a homicide. and fanning the flames in ferguson, emotions running high the night a grand jury decided not to indict officer darren wilson in michael brown's death and his stepfather is under investigation himself for what he said to a crowd that night, a top cop and activist said if he is arrested the situation will only get worse. [chanting] an angry out burst just as a decision was announced. but the man seemed comforting mike brown's mother and crying
out to the crowd was though bystander and lewis was a dead teenager's stepfather and now ferguson police are considering whether to charge him with trying to insight a riot. [chanting and screaming] even before his rant he seemed to recognize his words could cause trouble. >> start a riot. >> reporter: but did lewis head intend to start a riot? the ferguson police chief has begun an investigation in the question and the lieutenant governor already said he wants to see head arrested but that could further fracture the relationship with the community already leery of force. >> they wronged me. >> reporter: the long simmering tensions in and across the nation coming to surface and the top official speaking from martin luther king's church acknowledged the anger of communities long ignored and the
very tough work ahead. >> our police officers cannot be and cannot be seen as an occupying force disconnected to the communities that they serve. >> reporter: but in the fragile atmosphere that lingers in ferguson and beyond, there is fear any new police action, even suspended of being unfair, could ignite a new flash point. >> to blow this out there and say we are going to target michael brown's stepfather at this point in time i think is a horrible mistake because what it does is it sends another message, the message is if you open your mouth, even sometimes saying things that should not be said, if you are african/american there is going to be a punishment for you. >> reporter: improving relations between law enforcement and communities they serve one of the key issues that was discussed in the meetings the president held on monday. philadelphia police commissioner charles ramsey was one of the invited against and appoints to
be cochair of the task force on 21st century policing and commissioner is with us tonight and sir the president acknowledged it himself that some people are out there, they will be skeptical a task force where more talking can make a can? >> well, i know we can. the president gave us pretty clear direction. he wants actionable recommendations and a 90-day period. i think it's doable. we are going to focus on certain areas that i think are the most important for us to focus on during that timeframe. obviously 90 days is not very long so we are not going to solve all the problems but we certainly can come up with some very concrete recommendations to at least start the process. >> reporter: can you give me an idea what that would be? we already heard about the body cameras that i think your department is going to pilot using as well. >> well, the use of technology is one area, but training and education is certainly another area. but building relationships and
trust in communities particularly communities of color are more challenged communities in terms of crime and disorder where we tend to have the most tension between police and community. we have to establish trust. we have to open lines of communication. we have to have positive dialog with people in those particular areas. so that is going to be a big part of what we do and obviously things like use of force will be a topic that we will certainly address as well. >> reporter: but what do you do with that, do you make it public and become more transparent, do you have to admit to communities that you know this is happening? >> well, you have to create a culture of transparency and accountability. i mean, that is all part of it. we have to take a serious look at ourselves. there are a lot of people who feel that they are not given equal service, police service. it's not fair. it's not impartial. a majority of officers do but the few that don't is the
reasons we have issues and proble problems. >> reporter: do you think law enforcement on the line and officers in the street at some level feel misunderstood or not appreciated at this point? >> well, i'm sure they do. because of all the publicity right now, centered around ferguson and a couple other areas in our country, it tends to cause people to feel that everyone is against them but nothing could be further from the truth. i mean people support police by and large and want to have police. they just wants police that are fair to everyone and not have this sense that there is two different kinds of policing that takes place. one community gets one version of policing and another community gets another and we have to make sure that people understand that when that is not the case and if it's the case we it. >> reporter: the ferguson police are considering whether to charge michael brown's stepfather with trying to
insight a riot, do you see this as a good avenue to pursue or do you think there might be complexity just in adding fuel to the fire as it were? >> well, i think what he said was wrong. it was said out of emotion but i also think that making an arrest in this situation is just going to further insight the entire situation. >> reporter: thanks for being with us. ahead after the break, why millions of refugees face another brutal winter with little hope of even having enough food to eat. a look inside the syrian refugee crisis, much larger than you might think. also ahead, the strength of tiny hands in a fight to save themselves, india's girls and their battle for justice.
>> my name is elenor and for the last 25 years i was bernie madoff's secretary. >> an unimaginable story of betrayal. >> they lived this incredible life. it just never occurred to me that they were living on the dime of the clients. >> greed... >> bernie was stealing every nickel but he wasn't trading anything. >> ... and entitlement. >> you took my grandchildren's future away from them.
former fbi special agent ali soufan. >> if that specific information was shared with to the fbi agent 911 could have been stopped at its early stages. >> the ethics of torture, preventing terrorism and combatting isil. >> islamic state, their strategy differs from al qaeda because for the first time now they are
and finally from us good cheer and wishes for peace on earth in a place where they so often can barely keep the peace. the nation's capitol, the holiday tradition and america tonight's adam may with a look at the story behind and beneath that big tree. >> five, four, three, two, one. [ . >> reporter: they get something done, the lighting of the christmas tree. how is this different? >> this is tall and the trees have kind of grown over the years and gotten larger and larger and this one is 88 feet spectacular. >> ron is a former congressman from connecticut, now head of the u.s. capitol historical society. we met up with him before the tree lighting ceremony. >> i will be presenting the marble ornament and it is marble
and taken from the steps of the front of the capitol and it's part of the capitol. >> reporter: this year the capitol tree comes from the chipawa spruce with 10,000 ornaments representing each of one. >> it will end up on the tree. >> reporter: 10,000 ornaments on the tree. >> we will have to look very hard to find that one but from our perspective it's neat being part of the process in presenting an ornament for the capitol tree lighting. it's kind of neat for us. >> reporter: the capitol christmas tree tradition is pretty new, 50 years ago the speaker of the house decided he wanted a christmas tree and had a live tree transplanted from pennsylvania to here on the capitol grounds. well, after a couple of years and a wind storm that tree eventually died. but it did give birth to this current tradition of finding a tree from somewhere in the u.s. >> there was a controversy a few
years ago and changed the name of the tree from christmas tree to holiday tree and then speaker hastner changed it back to christmas tree. tree. >> the capitol christmas tree, the event being celebrated. >> reporter: the tree is smack in the middle of the capitol lawn and every side faces the public, unlike some politicians there is no way to hide a bad side in some corner. but it's not the only tree in town. and just like our branches of government, there is division. >> we have had trees from the very beginning not necessarily at the capitol but the white house and the capitol does a tree, there are trees all over the city. it's not that kind of a competition. and if it was i think with an 88-foot tree we would probably have the tallest. >> reporter: isn't that how we like it bigger and bigger. >> that is what happens in the grows. >> reporter: like the capitol building itself which expanded
numerous times over its history, this year scaffolding on the back of the tree and the dome getting a much needed face lift. >> everyone moved into it in 1800 and john adams opened the first session of congress and sort of under construction and you know it's been built and rebuilt and burned and years. >> reporter: has it served our democracy well? >> i think so. government. >> reporter: a symbol that has more and more americans frustrated, but for now it's shiny and bright. for the next few weeks anyway. washington. you can buy the capitol tree ornaments from the historical society and get them online although the ones from the white house are typically the ones in much higher demand. that's america tonight, we do hope you join us on wednesday on our program shiela mc-viktor will continue her
exclusive in depth use of burn pits used in iraq and afghanistan and the concern that toxic smoke from them has sickened millions of veterans and out lawed in 2009 but the military still using them as late as last year and we will explain why. if you want to comment on any stories you have seen log on to our website al jazeera/america tonight and join the conversation with us on twitter or at our facebook page, good night, we will have more of america tonight tomorrow. teach for america is supposed to educate poor children. >> schools where kids need grade teaching the most. >> can unprepared teachers make a difference? >> why are we sending them teachers with 5 weeks of training?
>> new terror threats to international travel. also lebanon says it has the wife of isil's leader in custody. do they have the right person? >> the death penalty case in texas that has republicans and democrats calling for mercy. welcome to consider this, those stories and much more straight ahead. >> britain's sunday express said islamic sleeper cell terrorists would like to blow up five planes before christmas day. >> isil has called for followers